As things currently stand, I think we can say that Google dominates the search market. Bing has scrapped and bought its way to a significant market share, but in search Google rules. As a social platform however, Facebook is taking over the world. Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt is reported to have claimed that failure to claim the ‘identity’ space was his most significant failure. Meanwhile, Twitter lurks in the background as a quick way to IM the world.
Imagine, if you will, that your town (or campus) has two coffee shops. In one coffee shop, the service, beverages, and pastries rival those anywhere you’ve been in the world. At the other coffee shop, not only is the product hit or miss, but the staff has occasionally been known to remove portions of their patron’s clothing exposing them to the world. The problem? Most of your friends hang out at the crappy joint.
So, is that the situation with Google versus Facebook. Does Google offer a better product and greater likelihood of respecting your privacy but Facebook is where your friends and family congregate? I got to wondering whether Google actually offered a viable alternative to Facebook if you took out the problem of where your people hang out. Here is what I came up with.
If we accept the rulings of the courts, Mark Zuckerberg, founded Facebook in February of 2004. What I like about Facebook is its integrated features. Want to look at your friends’ photo? Go to Facebook. Want to hear a quick word about what they’re up to? Go to Facebook. Want to know what their favorite book, movie, TV show, etc. is? Go to Facebook. What day in August is their birthday? Go to Facebook. Want to know what websites or Facebook pages they like? You know what to do.
Now, Google offers everything Facebook and Twitter combined offer. But let’s compare integration. Instead of a Facebook page, I have a Google profile. And, yes, if you want to see my pictures you can click on my PicasaWeb link; if you want to see my status, click on my Buzz link; want to see the websites I’ve +1’d (liked) click the +1 (as a side note I think that is a dumb moniker) link. Want to know my interests and background? It is all there under my ‘About’ tab. In addition, Google displays links to my websites and profiles on several other web services. Facebook doesn’t so much want to point people to who you are on the web as it wants to be the web for us.
Where Google shines is that each of these products is better than those of the Facebook counterpart. For example, PicasaWeb versus Facebook Photos? Oh, Facebook is KO’d in the first round. So what’s wrong with this picture?
If you go to Buzz in your Gmail, click on the ‘Following’ link at the top of the page and there are all your friends and links to their profiles. The Buzz stream is much like your Facebook ‘News Feed’.
Now, Buzz has been much maligned. It started out on a bad note by pulling a Facebook. It exposed my private Gmail contacts to the public for a couple of days. Facebook pulls this routinely. In fact, to write this post I went into Facebook and started to post my status and noticed that the default had changed to Everyone instead of Friends of Friends. Facebook is notorious for publicly de-pantsing us in this way. Every time they add a new feature, Mark Suckerberg, um, I mean Zuckerberg, turns the default to public and we have to navigate the labyrinth of privacy settings to correct this. The good news is that lately, Facebook at least notifies us of such changes. Google only did this once to my knowledge. Sadly, it was our first impression of Buzz and the buzz about Buzz was enough to virtually guarantee that our friends would forever avoid the product. (Recently, Google added +1 to our profiles, but you have to opt in to making it public.)
Buzz can be a lot like Twitter. You can easily make your status public. The difference being that it will be a tree falling in a forest with no one to hear it. But the advantage of Buzz over Twitter is that conversations arise around your Buzz. If you Tweet, I might @reply you, but Bill does not see that even though he follows you. If Bill @replies the same Tweet, I won’t know what he said nor will I have the opportunity to respond. Buzz is a far better product than Twitter in this regard. Twitter is a broadcast tool. Buzz is a conversation tool.
Buzz also had, I mean has, an advantage over Facebook when it comes to posting a status update. Facebook has lists but you can’t post to a list. You are limited to posting to yourself (huh?), Friends, Friends of Friends, Everyone, or a list of names. Buzz lets you select any Gmail contact group to whom to post. I believe the ease and flexibility of this feature is killer.
Discovery of “new” friends seems much better on Facebook than Buzz. I also prefer the appearance of Facebook, although the most recent update to the Google Profile is much more slick than the original Profile. Buzz still has a cluttered Gmail look.
Because Buzz is a link within Gmail it is an easy transition from checking your email to touching base socially.
When you click on ‘Contacts’ in your Gmail sidepanel the side panel changes to reflect Contacts-related options. I would like to see Buzz receive equal stature to mail, contacts, and tasks.
There you have it. Google handles privacy (opt in), profiles, pictures, and status better than the Facebook-Twitter duo. Facebook is better looking and has a much more logical way of discovering “new” friends. As it stands, I think Google offers a better product (with room for improvement) than Facebook. There really is only one major flaw. It is hard to be social without any of your friends and family there.
We’ll talk more later. Right now I’m heading over to Facebook to see what’s going on with my son this weekend.